Somerset Academy, a Nevada public charter school, has come under fire from a local pastor after a teacher prohibited his daughter from including a reference to a Bible verse in a class project that asks students to describe themselves using slides.
The student, Mackenzie Frazier, wanted to include a reference to John 3:16 in her "All About Me" assignment; however, her teacher refused to allow her to include a slide with the Bible verse, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Mackenzie's father, Tim Frasier, is a pastor at the local nondenominational Grace Point Church, and learned of the incident last month.
"Can you please explain if this is true?" wrote Frasier in an April 29 email to the school. "Perhaps, she misunderstood you? Since I am certain you understand that this clearly infringes on my daughters/your students right to freedom of speech, I want to make sure we understand your instructions."
The school's Assistant Principal, Jenyan Martinez, defended the teacher's decision in a reply to the pastor's email.
"When Mackenzie created the project with the expectation she would present the biblical saying to the class, the matter became one of having a captive audience that would be subject to her religious beliefs," Martinez told Frasier. "Had the assignment been designed to simply hand in for a grade, this would not have been an issue. Therefore, considering the circumstances of the assignment, Miss Jardine appropriately followed school law expectations by asking Mackenzie to choose an alternate quote for the presentation."
After Somerset's response, pastor Frasier partnered with Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the religious rights law firm the Liberty Institute, and organized a meeting with Frasier's family and the local press.
Dys issued a letter to the school and the Nevada attorney general's office on May 20 asking that an apology be issued to Frasier and for the school to accept Mackenzie's assignment, noting that the school's decision violates her constitutional right of freedom of speech and included past court rulings to substantiate his argument.
A spokesman at the charter school management company that runs the school is now looking into how the incident was handled by the assistant principal and teacher and addressed it in a Las Vegas newspaper.
"We consider the civil liberties of our students to be of utmost importance," said Colin Bringhurst of Academica Nevada. "As such, we strive to comply in every way with the directives set forth by the U.S. Department of Education with regard to religious expression in public schools."
A similar incident occurred in 2013 when a Millington, Tennessee, elementary school told a student that she could not use God in an assignment where students were asked to write about their idol.
10-year-old Erin Shead finished the assignment with a diagram displaying God as her idol and was told by the teacher to redo it. She then picked Michael Jackson which was accepted by the teacher.
A spokesperson for the Shelby County School District, where that shcool is located, said there is no rule against students writing about religion for a class assignment and that the teacher had no right to deny the student from writing about God after the child's mother began complaining to local media outlets.